by: john harrison
If you want a chill to run up and down your spine, think of the order:
Let that short phrase roll around in your brain for a while. It will pick up some speed as it does. Then, remember that an M-16 rifle is all of 44.25 inches long when it has an M-7 bayonet attached to its end. Said another way, it is a little less than four feet long.
If you do the math, and you understand the function of a bayonet, you will also understand that the immediate reason for fixing bayonets is for you to put yourself, on purpose, within less than three feet of your equally well-armed enemy. At which point the idea is for you to shove all of the M-7 bayonet’s 6.75 inches of solid carbon steel blade into the body of your enemy, preferably into his heart or some other vital, i.e., blood drenched, organ.
Do you feel the chill yet?
The M-7 bayonet is based on several earlier bayonet designs, all of which are direct descendants of the World War II, M-3 Fighting Knife. Like the M-3 Fighting Knife, the M-7 Bayonet has a spear-point blade fully sharpened on one side and with a half sharpened, 3 inch long, secondary edge on the other. It can be a wicked weapon when sharp, even more so on the end of a rifle.
I have given that order, “Fix Bayonets!”, only once in combat. Giving that order sent a chill right down my spine then, and every time since then, when I have just thought of those two words, it is the same chill. There are some things that you cannot forget.
After being out on a long search and destroy mission Alpha Company secured an extraction LZ early one morning in the dry rice paddies near Phan Thiet on the coast of South Vietnam. However, while the rest of Alpha Company choppered out of the field later that morning, the Second Platoon stayed behind.
We stayed behind to set up an ambush on the LZ that Alpha Company had just left. There was a stream bed on the southern border of the LZ. Like most stream beds everywhere in the world, the vegetation was much thicker there. So we literally just hid in the bushes along that stream, and waited.
We did not have long to wait. Two VC, both armed, both wearing black pajamas, tan ammo belts, and the tan, rice farmer’s, conical, palm bamboo-plated, leaf hats strolled out into the LZ minutes after the helicopters had left. Quietly, we got ready. I had prepared an M-72, LAW to fire at them as the signal for the rest of the platoon to open fire.
When they were about halfway across the LZ I fired the LAW at the rice paddy dike the two VC were walking just on the other side of. I intended for the 66 mm LAW rocket to detonate against the dike, and then the shrapnel from the rocket blast would blow through the dike and into them.
War is a mean business.
As soon as I fired the rocket and everybody opened up, I called for gun ship support, call sign “Tiger Shark” from the 192nd Assault Helicopter Company based at LZ Betty just outside of Phan Thiet. There was some return fire, but it stopped just before the gun ships arrived. The gun ships fired up the LZ with machine guns since they did not see a target worthy of their rockets, but they did a through job with those machine-guns for us. They knew as well as we did of the VC’s seeming ability to hide under even a small leaf. So they shredded that rice paddy with bullets and then they did it again.
As soon as the gun ships were done firing we moved out from the protection of the creek bed to see what the result was of our stay behind ambush. Just on the other side of that rocket blasted paddy dike, we found a simple, white cotton, brassiere with a lot of blood on one side and some blood on the ground as well, but that was all we found. No bodies, no blood trail, but at least one somebody had been hit hard. The stay behind ambush had worked.
We looked around in expanding concentric circles to see if we could find a blood trail, but after a while we gave up. You always drop the rucks1 as soon as the bullets fly because they get in the way. So, we were on the way back to the stream bed to pick up our rucks, when we were suddenly fired up from another stream bed to our right.
Second Platoon in an open column formation moving over a dry rice paddy outside of Phan Thiet, RVN. This was taken a month or so earlier. Notice how everybody is looking in a different direction, carrying their weapons in their hands, doing it right. These guys were real pros. Photo by Jerry Berry, 3/506th PIO
In response to the automatic rifle fire from our flank, the second platoon moved into an immediate action, battle drill and came up on a line firing together, everybody facing the enemies’ fire.
I waited for a moment trying to figure out who had fire superiority, us or them. It seemed to me that we did, but then one of our M-60s unexpectedly stopped firing. I waved everybody down and ran down the firing line to see what was going on with that machine gun. They had not been shooting at us as much until that machine gun shut down, but their firing picked right up again when the machine gun went down.
I took the gun away from the gunner, opened the bolt and shook out the cartridge belt from the feed tray. The gunner poured some white LSA, a really incredible gun lubricant, all over the bolt and feed system and then replaced the cartridge belt carefully in the feed tray.
I jacked the charging handle. Then, I fired the M-60 on full cyclic for a full, hundred-round, belt of ammo. That took the M-60 about 10 seconds or less to fire. The machine gun worked fine for that, but immediately after that it jammed again when I tried firing a second belt of ammunition.
Bang, bang, jam. Not good. The first two bangs—gets their attention—makes them angry—tells them where you are—tells them that you are a machine-gun—tells them where to fire an RPG. Not good, but nothing I could do about it right now.
I told the gunner to clear the new jam and then wait for my signal. I ran back to the center of the firing line, blew my whistle and then gave the command:
I was waiting for the machine gunner to be ready. Near me an F-N-G2 rifleman turned to his fire team leader and said:
“Bayonet? I don’t have a bayonet! Wait! What do I do? Wait!” the rifleman said.
“Don’t worry, nobody has a bayonet. Just get ready to go.” His fire team leader said.
“Charge!” I said.
Everybody got up, shooting fast, and screaming our heads off as we ran toward those bastards that were still shooting at us. That M-60 was talking lead again, full cyclic, trigger held down, assistant gunner slapping on more hundred-round, cartridge belts on the run. He knew he couldn’t let it stop firing.
Damn their fire! We flat out charged their guns.
However, by the time we got to the stream bed they were firing from, the VC were gone. No bodies. No blood. No blood trails. No bloody clothing this time. Nothing.
Best of all though as far as I was concerned, there were no casualties for us either. A tripped ambush and a firefight in less than an hour, just another day in the boonies for the Second Platoon, Alpha Company, 3/506th (Airborne) Infantry, 101st Airborne Division.
It turned out that of about 34 men in the Second Platoon that day, there were only 2 or 3 bayonets in the whole platoon. For almost everything, except being stuck on the end of a rifle, a real knife is much more useful than a bayonet, so few paras carried them in the field. Line doggies3 are utterly ruthless about the weight that we carry.
After we throughly checked out the stream bed, we headed back again for our rucks.
Probably in recognition of the success of the stay behind ambush, Alpha Company choppered out to the LZ several ammo boxes full of cans of Coca Cola that had been ice cold when they left Phan Thiet. I got one. Everybody got one.
I enjoyed that Coke. I smoked a Pall Mall cigarette and sat there beside the stream in the shade leaning against my ruck. I drank the Coke slowly even though it was getting warmer all the time. I tasted that Coke like I have never tasted anything before or since. It surprised me how good it was.
Only afterwards, did I realize that I had never in my life truly tasted a Coca Cola. That was one of many things that, prior to going to Vietnam, I did not know. Good to know I guess.
Then, I wondered what sent a chill down a VC’s spine? I expect there were lots of things, gun ships, F-4 Phantoms, M-60s, and probably most of all—us. We scared ’em—you betcha.
(1) “Ruck” = ruck sack or back pack, aka our house on our back.
(2) “F-N-G” = F – – – – – – New Guy.
(3) “Line Doggie”. A nickname for an infantryman on the line in Vietnam. The nickname probably relates back in some way to the famous Cheyenne Dog Soldiers of the Old West. They were ferocious fighters that fought as infantry usually. A “Line Doggie” is the opposite of a “REMF”. (“REMF” = Rear Eschelon Mother F – – – – -, that famous, all purpose “F” word again.)